Land of the Rising Roads
We'd talked about doing a bike trip someday, but deep down I suspected it would never happen; E's more of what you might call a weekend cyclist, not a day-after-day rider. The moon and the stars have to be perfectly aligned...the weather ideal and sunny...but not too hot...or cold....or windy...or hilly. Then my pal Bill Strickland from Bicycling called, and whispered the magic words: travel assignment.
We quickly moved past the usual suspects, the Burgundy and Tuscany-type trips. Argentina? Wrong dates. New Zealand? Not up for 20 hours of flying. The Berkshires? Boring. Then we spotted a unique offering from Butterfield & Robinson: "Hidden Japan," an eight-day trip along the west coast of Honshu, staying at small country inns with steaming-hot geothermal onsen baths. Sold!
As it turns out, Japan is a cyclist's dream. Outside the phenomenally-congested big cities, and away from the main travel arteries, the small country roads are almost empty of traffic—yet beautifully, immaculately paved, thanks to Japan's now-decade-long stimulus-spending binge. (No, it hasn't ended their recession.) There's nothing better, to me, than a winding one-lane country road, unless it's a winding one-lane country road heading down a mountainside, in which case I'll see you at the bottom. (As our friend Owie put it in his own hilarious blog, "I fully expected to see Bill pasted to a tree.")
Seriously, you could actually ride naked there. Not that anyone did that.
But the bike riding was merely the side dish to a heaping buffet of cultural experiences, many of which involved food. We ate amazing, surprising things, a few of which we could actually identify (anyone for a fried fern?) and many of which we couldn't. (These are noodles made from kudzu, the vine that's suffocating the South.)
But it wasn't just Japanese food; we had an amazing Italian-influenced dinner, with halibut carpaccio and possibly the best marinara sauce I've ever tasted. Later, in Tokyo, we got sushi across the street from the Tsukiji fish market, followed by a last lunch of pizza di Napoli.
The full story is in the May issue of Bicycling, not yet online so you have to buy it, but it's worth the cover price just for Marco Garcia's superb photos.